This morning the Benedictine Sisters of Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo invited me to come and celebrate Mass and the blessing of their new prioress. Sister Roberta Bailey who has been a number of years the Principal of St. Anthony School in San Antonio was elected by the members of her community to serve as Prioress for a term of, I believe, four years renewable for four more if she and they choose. Sister Roberta replaces Sister Mary Clare Neuhofer who was been the Prioress for eight years. The installation of the new prioress occurred this morning in a private ceremony at Morning Prayer and attended only by the community of sisters themselves. The Mass and Blessing which I attended saw about seventy-five additional people other than the sisters attending. It was simple, lovely and at times touching but then that is the Benedictine way. They devote their lives to prayer and work and sometimes their work is precisely praying for others. They are a monastic community but not of absolutely strict observance.
It is not the easiest time to be a religious woman in the Catholic Church in the United States. There is a Vatican initiated and controlled visitation of religious communities in this country which has been announced and is already underway and their national organization which is called the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is also under scrutiny by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I find the former to be interesting since the constitutions under which every religious community in this country lives have all been given the “good housekeeping seal of approval” by the same Congregation in Rome which now is investigating the sisters. Some time late summer and this fall, visitation teams will spread out across the US and visit the number of religious congregations and orders and then send a secret report back to Rome. If there is anything which the sisters dislike, it is precisely the secrecy of it all since they tend more than bishops or even men’s religious communities to do all their business in the proverbial “sunshine” or out in the open. We have only two possible communities which could be visited in this diocese, the Benedictines and the Sisters of St. Clare and neither of them will receive visitators.
As a man who happens to be both a priest and bishop, I can say categorically that I love the sisters of this diocese. Their total number is down considerably since my arrival (no cause and effect relationship but an indication of the aging and dying of nuns in this country) but they still contribute greatly to the life of this local Church. Many parishes who have one or two sisters working either in the school or doing parish ministry treasure their presence as do I. They are golden and a platinum resource in our midst. The same is true for the Benedictine Sisters of Holy Name who have been teachers since their foundation in many of the schools and presence in other parishes in mostly the northern three counties of this local Church. Today we prayed that God would bless these sisters with new vocations so that their presence and ministry in our midst might continue. And lest anyone forget, may I remind you that the largest national collection taken up in this diocese in terms of money donated is the one in December for the Retired Religious. Catholics also love the nuns and despite the occasional jokes about rulers across hands, our memories of the sisters of our youth are a part of the great mosaic of our faith.
Thank you, Sister Mary Clare. Congratulations and blessings to you, Sister Roberta. And love, prayers and best wishes to all the other sisters of our five counties.